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by Jim Allen

June 6, 2013

Cowboy Jazz: The World of Western Swing

by Jim Allen  |  June 6, 2013

Is Western swing jazzed-up country or country-flavored jazz? The answer is both and neither. Initially, it was what happened when Western string bands of the late '20s starting mixing the "hot" school of jazz with early country sounds to get the crowds hopping at the dance halls. At the start of the '30s, The Light Crust Doughboys codified and popularized the Western Swing style, and when Doughboys Bob Wills and Milton Brown branched off to start their own bands, things really started taking off.

Ultimately, everything from blues to accordion polkas was assimilated by Western swing, where the often dazzling displays of instrumental virtuosity never detracted from the danceable rhythms. By the '50s, Western swing's heyday was pretty much history, but later generations always had torchbearers to carry the tradition forward. Everything from rockabilly to the progressive country sounds of Lyle Lovett would have sounded very different if not for the Depression-era innovations of some crafty cowboy jazzers.

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